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Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841)

Sir Francis Chantrey was the leading English portrait sculptor of the early nineteenth century. He had the distinction of portraying four successive monarchs during their lifetimes – George III (1738–1820), George IV (1762–1830), William IV (1765–1837) and Queen Victoria (1819–1901).

Born in relative obscurity near Sheffield, Chantrey made his name as a portrait painter before turning to sculpture. Despite having little formal training, he began to specialise in busts of military heroes and statesmen from the early 1800s, to considerable acclaim. In 1809 he was commissioned to produce a bust of George III, for which the king gave sittings, and two years later he won a commission for a statue of the king for City of London Guildhall.

Both William IV and George IV had a passion for sculptures of military heroes, which Chantrey was well-equipped to provide. For the Guard Chamber at Windsor Castle, he supplied busts of the Duke of Marlborough and the Duke of Wellington (RCIN 35332), as well as of Admiral Nelson (RCIN 69609). The Nelson bust was displayed on the stump of the foremast of HMS Victory, the ship on which Nelson was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  

Chantrey's bust of George IV (RCIN 2136), now in St George's Hall at Windsor Castle, was one of the sculptor's most successful works. It was commissioned by the king in 1821, the year of his coronation, and was widely copied, becoming the 'official' likeness of the king throughout his ten-year reign. Chantrey also prepared a colossal marble statue of the king (RCIN 93005) which today stands in the Grand Staircase at Windsor. On seeing the preparatory plaster model, George IV declared 'Chantrey, I have reason to be obliged to you, for you have immortalised me.'  

Such was Chantrey's reputation that Queen Victoria declared her intention of sitting for him as early as 1838, when she was still only 19. Despite his great experience, the sculptor was said to be daunted by the Queen's tender age and the need to give the portrait a proper sense of majesty. To help him capture the Queen in her most characteristic attitude, Chantrey encouraged Victoria to write letters and hold conversations while she sat for him. The approach was evidently successful: when Victoria saw Chantrey's clay model for the bust she described it 'quite finished and perfect' (see RCIN 31618).

Chantrey was elected to the Royal Academy in 1818 and knighted by William IV in 1835. He died in 1841, having carved some of the most distinctive and successful likenesses of the royal family and other outstanding figures from British history.


Objects associated with Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841)